July 2018 Exemplars: Poetry Reviews by Grace Cavalieri

A monthly feature that looks at books of and about poetry.

July 2018 Exemplars: Poetry Reviews by Grace Cavalieri

Anagnorisis by Kyle Dargan. TriQuarterly. 96 pages.

The Arrows That Choose Us by Marilyn Annucci. Introduction by Tom Lombardo. Press 53. 88 pages.

North American Stadiums by Grady Chambers. Milkweed Editions. 112 pages.

Our World by Shelby Stephenson. Cover art by Jacob Stephenson. Press 53. 102 pages.

4:30 Movie by Donna Masini. W.W. Norton. 80 pages.

Currents by Barbara Berman. Three Mile Harbor Press. 79 pages.

The Typists Play Monopoly by Kathleen McClung. Kelsay Books. 84 pages.

Feminists Are Passing from Our Lives by Leslie McGrath. The Word Works. 98 pages.

The Acoustic Properties of Ancient People by Michael Tims. Finishing Line Press. 62 pages.


Anagnorisis by Kyle Dargan. TriQuarterly. 96 pages.

“Anagnorisis is a moment in a play or other work when a character makes a critical discovery. Anagnorisis originally meant recognition in its Greek context, not only of a person but also of what that person stood for. Anagnorisis was the hero's sudden awareness of a real situation.”

Dargan takes no prisoners in this book, himself or others. He looks our society right in its

one Cyclopean eye, seeing, sadly and bitterly that there’s always been a widening circle of murder of black males. In “La Petite Mort,” “I cannot afford to believe that someday/the State, these states, will stop murdering my cousins…” Dargan memorializes victims, and history, in layered poems that make us look harder and see better. These observations are not new nor are they radical in African-American literature today; we can find similar overtones elsewhere; what is distinctive is Dargan’s verbal gift.

There’s a six-page masterwork entitled “In 2016, the African-American poet Kyle Dargan is asked to consider writing more like the African-American poet Ross Gay.” This referendum on “joy” is insightful and eye-opening so we won’t find this poet singing Spirituals anytime soon.

To be inside a poem, reflecting on what’s going on in the world outside, takes craft and innovation. Dargan’s poetic forms are an adventure, housing subjects via imagery, and when he adds colloquialism, they become interactive.

“DISTANCES” features two pieces of poetic prose (or prose poetry). “Lost One” explores our flagging spirits (e.g., questioning fear in just walking through the street, seeing boys who appear menacing, then seeing they, too, are just on their way home), “just like Kirstyn and me, just like, for all we’ll know, Michael Brown.”

“THE CHINA CIRCLE” chronicles the poet’s time in that country. His casual good-humored learning of the language makes for infectious reading. In every environment of this book the speaker personalizes his expedition with access to ideas. It’s always a living dialogue because —above all things — this poet passionately believes in what he’s writing; and so, we do too. Passion and truth are the voices poetry is made of. This is Dargan at his best because, in addition, he doubles down on insistence.



The cypress trees I planted after

I bought the dead woman’s house

sway higher than me, even taller

than the out-of-work chimney.

And the neighbor, Ms. Miller, who

watched me wedge up crepe myrtles

in favor of then knee-high evergreens,

she has died. The stressed myrtles

withered but lived once replanted

in a hedgerow behind the Japanese maple.

I drenched them daily. Now they sing

a steady emerald harmony

backing the maple’s burgundy croon.


Yes, there are days, say today, when I am

fine suspending here my journey


of breathing — not a fatal capitulation.

Just ready. When questions of what more

arise, only wind, only wind. Ambition,

though, remains an antagonizing allergen,

and my body secretes will’s mucus

throughout my day’s work. I never learned

from Charles Wright the sage way a poet

pulls poems out of their somber descents.

Maybe I’m not yet sufficiently worn

by this world. (Not old enough,

what everyone tells me.) But explain that

to my palms, to my soles, to the cypress

fronds that fan above me, blatant

in their surprise that I am still here.


The Arrows That Choose Us by Marilyn Annucci. Introduction by Tom Lombardo. Press 53. 88 pages.

Annucci has the ability to take the most insular moments, make them public, and turn it all into contemporary art. She’s an honest observer, fulfilling poetry’s demands by recording small acts, — giving a cup of water to Mexico’s stray dogs; seeing faces pressed against a Saint’s glass picture frame; watching a mother “breathy from Winstons” — her theme is aloneness, and each poem broadens that loneliness to become a moral voice weighing what we mean to each other and what we could mean. Some poems offer unexpected patterns, others emphasize with a stylish swag.

No matter how beautiful or strange poems are they are still public messaging, and only the mantles of language will prove the poet’s worth. Annucci is nuanced, restrained, and keen. With a light hand she makes elegant solutions to life’s inelegant dailiness.



We leave in the hour

of film noir. Neighbors’


eaves and porches,

trash cans, shady


shapes, your suitcase

lifted into our car’s


back seat. Traffic lights

blink yellow all the way


down Johnson Street,

and the sky begins


its slow resolution,

whitening. Your hand


closes in mine. You’ll be

onboard soon, matter


of fact, will settle in

to your seat, call me


from your cell, take out

your book, gaze out


the window as the plane

noses into the clouds


and you look down

one last time — roads,


farm fields, loves.

Freighted into all this light.


 North American Stadiums by Grady Chambers. Milkweed Editions. 112 pages.

“…So many lives/seem possible/so many Rockaways…”

Twin Cities, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, Syracuse, Far Rockaway, and always Pittsburgh, he hears America singing, alright — and if this is his first book may he live to live up to his poetry — because it’s fabulous.

Each page is a breathing scene. Each normal day is a rare event fierce with memory and details, recurring imagery; sentient with skies, snow, gravel and mud — talking of the past and making every word so present, this is beyond craft, this is gifted by legions of angels (who must be writers.) I love this book. It’s about a 7-year-old; an 11-year-old; grown people; blue denim jackets; weather; baseball; dead dogs. Chambers reenacts (rather than recites) bringing us in by a sheer energy force field. The book’s populated with houseplants, strange neighbors, backpacks, Jackknives, poems crammed with imagery. How does this writer transform the detritus of human thought to poetry that moves with such ease and technical virtuosity? The courage to share could be the point of view behind each poem. If memory serves anyone it certainly serves Chambers best, because it’s impossible to stop reading this work. This should be the start of something big.

Sunday Morning


The weather turned bad and I got happy.

That’s wrong — I mean the morning sky

was ash blue, birds on the ground. I mean

not happy but good, not good

but fastened, steady, like every train in the city

was running late, but no one minded.

On 12th Street, tarpaulin swelled

and bowed in wind. Rain drove straight

through a woman’s dress. And again

on Hollis, that slowness: damp black

trees, the line of streetlights

paced like breath. I pulled over. Leaves

dripped like rinsed hands.

A girl held her mother

by the shoulders on a porch.


Our World by Shelby Stephenson. Cover art by Jacob Stephenson. Press 53. 102 pages.

Stephenson is our Walt Whitman of the South and our Carl Sandburg of North Carolina. “He lives at his home place on Paul’s Hill, where he was born, near McGee’s Crossroads, about 10 miles northwest of Benson; “and he’s North Carolina’s Poet Laureate.

This book is a requiem on aging and family history. It’s elegiac, lyrical, and bears the customary narrative we’ve waited for. Romance, marriage, life, nature, death. How can a poet memorialize these so that we hear them for the first time? Stephenson does this with particulars of life about family legacy and his love for the past and his ill wife, with sincerity that is manifest. (Flummoxed & Bumfuzzled:) “When I am not with you I hear people say/where is she who sings with you/and I look aside and another so lovely appears, /2 images which shift back and forth/and one brings me orange slices on a plate/and I want to call my mother.”

Love Clouds


My song’s of setting suns

That look good going down.

My only milk-cow’s gone.

Please help me drive her home.

I need to press my face

Into her side again

As she eats hay and grain.


Gallons must swell the bag

Of roaming Gloria

I love now and always,

My rambling Jersey cow,

Settling in that carriage.


I hear the bucket’s pings,

A milking musicale.

My freckles grace her lows.

Her tail unlays my hair.


4:30 Movie by Donna Masini. W.W. Norton. 80 pages.

Two sisters live a lifetime together. One sister dies. The way to hold this grief is through a cinematic framework; and sometimes by being present in the process. (Washing Her Hair) “The way I’ll hold/the fading paper//wreath she/made in the first grade…” How do you organize feelings about losing the one who held all the puzzle pieces of your life? They’re gone now. These sisters watched films together. Linear experience that cannot be exact; time is pointillistic, yet pieces of the script, camera angles, and movie content can be captured. There’s also no way to organize pain and Masini doesn’t try — but, to hold onto authenticity is to hold on to a life now gone; and this is done with flashbacks, narratives and inventions. In one section there are freewheeling words scattered over several pages (Water Lilies) that demonstrate how fragile words and life are. These thoughts can hurt too much to string together and page space is merciful. Hospital waiting rooms and medical procedures are frightening because it’s clear what the” deleted scenes” will tell. In one poem the speaker says I Want Her Back. In a way this book does that. This is courageous writing, not for what Masini withstood but for how she says it with exquisite dependable skill.

Deleted Scene: Bargaining (.56)


Here I come again

with my abra

cadabra, my gang

of language, to beg,

harangue. Oh Divine Airbag.

I stand here in your rabid Niagara,

with nothing but prayer’s ragbag

incantations. Need me to gin

up? Watch me, mere gnat,

up the ante: I’ll take the angina,

you take the brain

cancer. My loss is your gain!

Leave me elbow-deep in

your whole grab-bag

of disaster. But bring

her back.


Currents by Barbara Berman. Three Mile Harbor Press. 79 pages.

Sometimes poetry can feel as if all the air has just been rinsed by a fresh spring rain. Berman’s poems are direct clean writings about family, world affairs, and travel; she presents a crisp look at the world in concentric circles from her threshold all the way out to countries at war. The tone consistent throughout is kindness, and her diction is without trickery. Her stories are object lessons in naturalism and clarity.

First Wedding


Aunt Mona in long, simple

backless chartreuse silk crepe.

Uncle Carroll’s hand began

at the nape of her neck

and went down slowly

that hand as expressive

as his Adriatic blue eyes.


I was fourteen, five feet three,

one hundred and eighty pounds

and convinced no part of my body

would ever incite desire.


So many mistakes

between eighteen

and thirty five

wanting what I’d witnessed

in the receiving line.


The Typists Play Monopoly by Kathleen McClung. Kelsay Books. 84 pages.

The first thing we admire are the character portraits, then we realize, with more observation, how each poem is shaped by perfect form. The virtue of craft is honored in a spectacular series of 7 “Renter Sonnets” that draw strongly on classic form so to hold contemporary content. The Renters are an interesting collection of lifestyles and McClung pays homage to the everyday by elevating it with her literary expertise.

Gilbert and Ed Washing the Wheelchairs,

            Telegraph Avenue Coin-Op


We come each Saturday. Sometimes we sing,

tell knock knock jokes to lighten, lift our chore —

car wash duet, our prayer for bodies aching


in wards of orderlies and moans, in wings

with Ansel Adams prints on walls, Half Dome décor.

We come each Saturday. Sometimes we sing


Sinatra, fly me to the moon. We bring

our boom box in the van, open both doors,

duet, our prayer for bodies aching,


confined to narrow beds, remembering

a picnic, August 1934.

We come each Saturday. Sometimes we sing


but mostly listen to high-powered spray rinsing

these fleets of unfilled seats, each week a dozen more,

our prayer for bodies aching


we never meet yet surely know, those whispering

our names and words we’ve heard somewhere before.

We come each Saturday. Sometimes we sing,

our bodies aching.


Feminists Are Passing from Our Lives by Leslie McGrath. The Word Works. 98 pages.

Once in a while you’ll find a poet you realize has felt everything a person can feel. We all have, of course, but unless we write it we haven’t really felt everything. Leslie McGrath chronicles her life and uses it as a foundation to understand others. The tone is candor and the book gets high marks for turning realism into lyricism. When hard subjects threaten to gain momentum, musicality and imagery are their redemption. The title is cautionary. The book is a resolution with intimate stories, full disclosures, and smart perspectives. There’s something interesting that happens when a poet bares her soul. It makes us kinder.

The “Feminism” in the poems is not from the suffragette movement; it’s a one-woman speaker who has a larger cause in mind while writing poetry — apparently to influence our culture; and, sharpen our minds to the inner workings of womanness. McGrath embraces her past, refreshes her youth, and releases it to find the opposite of her pain. These poems rise to the occasion of our best expectations.

Encountering Franz Wright Along the Way


I had been dawdling I don’t know how long

In the placid dark after the rash of day had receded.

I found an anvil-shaped stone in a field overlooking the road

And thinking I was alone, made audible the speech

I knew not to share with any person for fear of frightening them.

I lay back on that stone, turning away from the tree, away

From their ceaseless industry, toward the everything I could not see

But pretended to. He appeared on the smooth cheek of the sky

The raw edge of a raw edge, alarming the stars into stillness.

“Don’t be so much at the mercy of things,” he boomed

But as I began to utter a polite fuck off, the sky behind him

The night sky, flashed emerald. This, his lucid recognition

Of the unabating shame made flesh in me. If he said more

Before he meteored away, I don’t recall. All I heard was mercy.


The Acoustic Properties of Ancient People by Michael Tims. Finishing Line Press. 62 pages.

This is a poet and a scientist — a man who takes inspiration from experience and this is the reason for his consequential poetry. We could call this humanistic meta data. Each sight is a vision connecting things of this earth to our fragile lives. (The World You See Is Not Your Own) “… A dense Mat of leaf decay/gives way slowly/to something/approximating smoke, / diffuse and ethereal beings/that weave moments/into memory, /unravel story/into that which waits/outside me for her/dusky breath, her/brain stem’s sway…”

The body is present, the brain is present; the world is visceral, and this artist deserves an energetic fan base for his powers of surveillance, both outward and inward.



Once off the path,

walking along a ridge line

above the last outcropping of rock,

I caught a glimpse

and tried to follow leaping —

if that’s what you can call

a big-bellied man on the edge of free-fall —

over bracken and stone.


Movement blurred the edge of my vision

near where deer burst from their stillness

at the base of two hollows.

A small boy laughed and disappeared,

spiriting down the rock sluice

like wind wailing through the hay

field below, yellowed joyfully.


Send review copies (2018 releases only) to:

Washington Independent Review of Books
7029 Ridge Road
Frederick, MD 21702

Grace Cavalieri produces “The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress,” celebrating 41 years on air. Her newest book is Other Voices, Other Lives (Santa Fe Writer’s Project).

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